Hopefully, the windows are clear and the vision is of a sunny election with ballot measure 3A passing so the Meeker School District can get on with doing what it is they are supposed to be doing, and that is offering students the best education possible.
Meeker School District RE-1 has suffered losses of teachers, classes, staff members and the ability to repair much infrastructure within the district, and the district superintendent said that condition will persist if the mill tax levy override on the November ballot doesn’t pass.
In the meantime, per-student funding has dropped from the state, starting in 2009 until the 2013-14 school years. The current year is up a bit over 2013-14 only because of funds reimbursed by state after the acknowledgement that the county deserved a $473,000 reimbursement.
“I hope the community of Meeker sees the needs of students to restore teachers and programs we can offer so our students can compete with the rest of the nation,” MSD Superintendent Mark Meyer said. “I have all the faith in Meeker residents that they are committed to doing the right thing.”
Mayer said the shortage in funding has forced the district this current school year to: change back to a four-day school week; make a 10 percent cut to all non-salaried budgets; cost the district one special education teacher; cost one administrative receptionist; forced the loss of one high school secretary; cost MHS one alternative teacher; and forced the athletic director at Meeker High School to be reduced from full time to .71 time.
This year, however, is just the latest in a series of cuts to have occurred.
Last year, Meyer said, the severe lack of funding cost the district: one librarian at the middle school and high school combined; caused the loss of a half-time industrial arts teacher at the middle school and high school combined; forced the loss of a half-time technology instructor; and forced a spending freeze beginning in January of this year.
The problems don’t just go back a year or two either. They go all the way back to 2009, when per-student funding began to fall.
According to Meyer, cuts during the 2012-13 school year included the loss of one alternative teacher at the high school and half a teacher at the middle school.
During the 2011-12 year, cuts included one business teacher at the high school and one full-time counselor position split between the middle school and the high school.
During the 2010-11 school year, the district had to unfund one teacher at the middle school, and, during the 2009-10 academic year, there were cuts of one teacher at the middle school, a half-time art teacher at Meeker Elementary School and a full-time Title I teacher at the elementary school.
“As you can see, students have lost a lot of programming as well as support services throughout those years,” Meyer said.
In addition to direct class and teacher losses, the district is currently way behind in keeping facilities maintained and keeping current teaching resources in the classrooms, he said.
Meyer also gave a partial list of current capital improvement projects needing attention in the near future: a boiler at the middle school; concrete at the middle school; pavement crack-filling at all schools except the elementary school; drinking fountains at the high school and middle schools; the gym wall padding at the middle school; and gym wall padding at the middle school.
Other capital improvement projects, Meyer said, include: new lobby carpet at Meeker High School; an oven at the high school; painting the New Eden building; roof patching at the middle school and district administration building; replacing eight-foot sections of roofing at MHS; a three-foot by five-foot building at Rock School needs roofing, doors and paint; install a roof at the main transportation garage so employees can work inside instead of outside during the winter; working stove tops for food service; and textbook and resources replacement.
During a recent Meeker School District Board work session, those listed capital improvement items were ranked as Priority 1 items out of a possible ranking of four.
The total cost to get these items fixed is more than $1 million, Meyer said.
“It is impossible to forecast what will happen if the mill levy override is not passed, due to the uncertainty of the Public School Finance Act,” Meyer said. “Of course, it is highly unlikely that the district would be able to restore any programming options for students; we would also not be able to take care of the current maintenance needs of our buildings and grounds.
“We usually do our preliminary budget in December, so it is too early tell exactly what the story will be for certain for the next year,” Meyer said. “I don’t look for the income from the state and district to be much different than it was this year, except we will not be receiving the additional $473,000 reimbursement we received from the state due to the district being underfunded; they made it very clear that those funds were for one time only.”
Since the 2009-10 school budget, when the Meeker district received $7,446 per pupil, the per-pupil funding bottomed out in the 2013-14 school year with $6,887 per-pupil payment. The amount the district received for the current school year rose to $7,268 per pupil, but that is because of the state’s one-time reimbursement.
If the mill levy override does pass, Meeker School District, which will retain all of the funds raised without state oversight, would begin seeing revenues from override as early as late in the first six months of 2015.
As to the exact amount the tax override will mean to property owners in the Meeker School District, that number is an unknown, County Assessor Renae Neilson said on Monday.
The district has asked for a set sum in excess of $900,000 to be raised through the election. So with the valuation of property in the district not firmly known until December, the amount per valuation is not certain, she said.
“It would be much easier to estimate if they had asked for a set percent on the mill levy increase, but they didn’t,” Neilson said.
Even Natosha Clatterbaugh, president of Citizens for Meeker Schools, which is charged with getting the mill levy increase passed, stated in a letter that is published in today’s edition of the Herald Times that the cost to property owners is likely to be closer to a $10 increase instead of the initial $8 increase in $100,000 of residential valuation and closer to a $75 increase instead of the initial $55 increase expected on commercial valuation.
The truth is, Neilson said, there are many factors, including exactly where one lives, as to what the tax increase will or will not be.
One can assume in what the neighborhood of the tax increase will be for the purpose of voting, but not even that will always be completely accurate.
“Some people may not see an increase,” she said. “If people are really concerned about roughly how much the tax will increase for them, they should call the Rio Blanco County Assessor’s Office at 878-9410.”
(Neilson also has a letter to the editor in today’s edition of the Herald Times that clarifies many of the issues regarding the upcoming mill levy override election.)
Either way, the Meeker School District needs an increase in funding that is just not going to go away by ignoring the situation. The students are suffering, the buildings are suffering, the staff is suffering and, without this override, their pain isn’t going to go away.
I have heard several people say they aren’t going to vote for the measure because of what happened what is now years ago with the elementary school—justifying that reasoning because the school board let that happen.
A few things wrong with that logic, the first being that the school board’s job is not really to make certain that a building is constructed correctly although, admittedly, it is their job to deal with the contractor, whose job it is to oversee the project.
In reality, that is what happened. The problems were discovered, brought to the attention of the contractor and they were corrected at no cost to the district.
But, most importantly, it is a nearly completely different Meeker School Board in office now, and the current board truly seem committed to making things better for the students and to being more accountable to the public for the actions they take.
Another question is when will this added tax end?
MSD Board President Bill deVergie said Monday that the board did not ask for a sunset date because he said the board doesn’t know what the future brings and how long it will take to raise the funds needed to get back on track with staffing and building repairs.
“I would truly hope and expect that when the district is fully back on its feet that the board members at the time will work to have that extra tax assessment dropped,” he said.
Mostly, I look back to my high school days and what fond years they were. We had good facilities, plenty of course offerings, books and facilities and, most importantly, the instructors that helped me take advantage of the resources to where I could study the subjects I wanted in order to pursue the career I wanted.
We can never do enough to help our local students—and think back, adults. How happy would you be if there hadn’t been sufficient resources to allow you to pursue your education or to pursue your interests because the parents/landowners in your town/school district didn’t want to pay a couple dollars more a year for you to get a better, more-thorough education.
Paying a little bit more now—and admittedly no one wants to pay more in taxes—is truly likely to pay off later. We owe our community’s children that opportunity.
It was a great move by the collaborative Rio Blanco County bi-partisan group working to bring the top statewide candidates to the area that they were able to bring incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper to Meeker on Monday.
It is an equal shame that it looks like the governor may be the only one among the top four candidates for governor or U.S. Senate that will set aside a couple of hours this fall to visit Rio Blanco County. Kudos to the governor.
Cory Gardner, to his credit, did visit Rio Blanco County a couple of months ago for a different reason, but it would have been great to have all four candidates—John Hickenlooper and Bob Beauprez for governor and Mark Udall and Gardner, running for U.S. Senate, to visit us when the election and such important issues face the voters.
Best of wishes to the Meeker High School Cowboys as this entire week leads up to a series of sports events, class activities and the ever-important Homecoming bonfire, football game and dance.
Here’s to hoping that all goes well and that the Cowboys emerge victorious in all their endeavors. Go Cowboys!